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If I were to be glibly simplistic, as is my wont, I could say that Colombia is music; and it could be nearly as simple as that. This is a country completely suffused with music - it would be very unusual to go anywhere where there are Colombians without some vallenato or salsa being played nearby. As a result, the music industry here is wide, varied, and popular. This makes it hard for a gringo like me to come up with a top ten list of Colombian songs for the year, as there’s so much to choose from, and the music that is you hear most in taxis or buses is wildly different from the stuff blasting at a “cross-over” bar or club.
Keeping this in mind, I’ve tried to present a spectrum of different genres here, with the sole requirement that they were released this year, reached a fairly substantial level of popularity, and are songs I actually like myself. As such, there are plenty of other songs I could have picked; I leave it to you to choose another ten songs, so we can have a complete 2013 top 20 here. As music is such a passion in this country, any heated debate on what I have chosen is warmly welcomed!!
Carlos Vives: Bailar Contigo
Actor, singer, Tintin lover, and all-round nice guy, Carlos Vives, had a giant of a year. His new album, Deep Heart, is an absolute mine of hits, garnering him a handful of Latin Grammies, and further cementing him as the Colombian pop star. If you were in Colombia at all this year, you must have heard this profoundly catchy hit, “Dance with me,” somewhere. It’s a perfect example of how Vives is fusing Colombia’s beloved vallenato with contemporary pop rock.
Bonus Round: Volví a Nacer
So big was Vives’ year, that it would be remiss not to mention his other massive hit, “Born Again” here. Lucky I mentioned it, hey?
J Balvin: Sola
In his own world of reggaeton, J Balvin had nearly as big a year as Señor Vives, with his impressive album, The Family. The man whose first name is J is the biggest thing in Colombian reggaeton, and his album demonstrates a musical range often lacking in this controversial genre. A perfect example is this hit, “Alone,” a mix of very reggaeton-flavoured lyrics with smooth, down-beat club production.
Bonus Round: Tranquila
For a more usual kind of reggaeton banger, J Balvin scored a lot of points with a song I’m going to translate as “Easy.”
Kevin Florez: La Invite a Bailar
One reason I put this at number 3 is just to show off the wide variety of music Colombia produces every year. Champeta was born on the Colombian Caribbean coast in the eighties, and is so expressive of a balmy night in Cartagena. Another reason is that this hit, “Invitation to Dance,” is always a ray of tropical sunshine in our sometimes cloudy Bogota.
Alkilados – Respira
Another shiny – albeit very different - feel-good song, “Breathe” is from those reggae-infused popsters from the Coffee Triangle. They’ve had a big year, too; and you can see why, with such a sweet, breezy number, featuring its great horn accompaniment. You’ll hear more from these guys.
ChocQuibTown: Uh La La
Everybody’s favourite Colombian hiphoppers, ChocQuibTown, have a special place in our hearts here in the fictional See Colombia Towers, and this year they released an amazing, “unplugged” style album, Behind the Machine. They also released this typically energetic, bright track, which I’m going to translate as “Uh La La.” A perfect example of how hiphop can represent the rhythm and culture of people all around the world.
Silvestre Dangond: Un Amor Verdadero
It would be a pretty weird Colombian Music Top 10 without a straight-up vallenato song represented, and who better than Señor Dangond to get us crooning along drunkenly at three in the morning? Silvestre did big things with his bizarrely military-themed album, the Ninth Battle, this year.
La 33: Guayabo
Another group we have a soft spot for here is Bogota’s own The 33, who always demonstrate that the people here in the cold land can salsa too. This song refers to something anyone who’s had a night on the guaro is only too familiar with.
Pretty-boy Maluma delivers with this club-and-radio-friendly up-beat reggaeton number, “Temperature.” Coming to a club or chicken bus near you…
Cali y el Dandee: No Digas Nada
Here, Cali (guess where he’s from) and The Dandy get that ballad-and-rapping-thing done right, with their emotional “Don’t Say Anything.” Nothing I like more than a good dandy.
Cabas: Prende La Moto
Cabas gets our motorbikes started here with this catchy, cheerful, tropi-poppy number here.
As I said above, this is just my top ten. Which songs have I rudely ignored here? Please let us know!
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